Lady Vols advance with win over UTM

CHICAGO - The Lady Vols won their first round game against Tennessee-Martin and will face hometown team DePaul. Go inside for complete coverage - game story, analysis and video.

Meighan Simmons sat on the back of a golf cart Saturday and hollered for Glory Johnson to hurry up.

The motorized vehicle, which ferries players and coaches down and up a ramp - it goes under the street and connects Allstate Arena to the Skyline Room - already had Simmons and Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick on board.

Johnson bolted out of the locker room and was whisked away to the press conference.

It was one of the few times Saturday that Johnson needed to get in gear in Tennessee's 72-49 win over UTM, the alma mater of Pat Summitt, in a game attended by 4,161, on St. Patrick's Day in the Windy City.

The senior tallied a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds.

"We face double teams, we face teams sagging off us, but Glory is our go-to player and we rely on her to make plays and she has the ability to go up and get the ball with two, three people on her," Warlick said.

"We want Glory to make plays and we want her involved in the offense. Any great post player, if they don't touch the ball a few times down the floor, then post players may tend to quit working, but Glory keeps working. She is the exception to that rule."

Simmons did her part, too.

"We tried to get the ball inside but if you watch they were not defending our point guard, they were not extending their defense, they were really packing it in, so it was really difficult to get the ball inside and credit to them they were physical, they played very tough, so we had to hit shots to open up the inside, and I think the first half we didn't hit some open shots we needed to," Warlick said.

"Credit to Meighan, she hit some big shots, some big threes, which really opened up the inside for us."

The sophomore led all scorers with 20 points and was 4-7 from long range - 1-3 in the first and 3-4 in the second half.

"You know Meighan is an awesome shooter," said Kamiko Williams, who entered the game eight minutes into the first half because she can put the ball on the floor and get to the paint, which the Lady Vols needed when shots didn't fall to start the game.

"I mean once the girl is on she's on. We just kept giving the ball to her and she kept knocking them down."

Tennessee needed the offense from both Simmons and Johnson, as the Lady Vols struggled to connect to start the game. The Lady Vols attempted 16 three-pointers in the first half and made just four of them - one each from Shekinna Stricklen, Alicia Manning, Ariel Massengale and Simmons.

UTM wasn't having much success either. The Skyhawks rely on the long ball, and they were 3-12 from long range before the break.

While Tennessee was having trouble finding the bottom of the net, the Lady Vols were playing an aggressive man and switching defense and using their length to disrupt UTM.

UTM's leading scorers, Heather Butler and Jasmine Newsome, who combined averaged 44 points a game, tallied 24 total and were a combined 8-43 from the field overall and 1-13 from the arc.

"Tennessee is kind of a cumulative effect," UTM Coach Kevin McMillan said. "It is a wear down, wear down, wear down, so it's hard to make those shots as you get worn down.

"That is what they do that is going to cause those problems, and if you add in that you just missed a few open shots, then you have a snowball. But their defense is relentless and pounding on you."

UTM led 7-5 at the 16:39 mark of the first half when Jaclissa Haislip connected on a three-pointer. Stricklen put Tennessee ahead, 8-7, on a three-pointer at the 14:10 mark, and the Lady Vols never trailed again.

Tennessee built the lead to 17-9 when Williams drove and dished to Stricklen and then 19-11 when Williams drove and connected on an elbow jumper.

But a three-pointer from Haislip due to a defensive communication breakdown and layup from Shelby Crawford on an assist from Taylor Hall brought UT to 19-16 - much to the delight of their fan base - with 6:09 left before halftime.

"There were a couple shots I took too early, and I got beat on a couple of backdoor cuts … but I think coming out of the second half I had to keep my legs fresh and make sure I was focused on what was going on out there on the court," Simmons said.

Tennessee got on the offensive glass - led by Williams and Isabelle Harrison - and then Simmons and Williams got to the rim on drive.

Stricklen scored at the rim and then found Simmons at the rim. Simmons' three right before the break came Tennessee a 35-26 lead.

Heather Butler hit a trey to start the second half for UTM, but Baugh scored on a drive and then off an in-bounds play where she tossed the ball off the back of a Skyhawk, got it back, hit the layup and was fouled.

That gave Tennessee an 11-point lead, 40-29, with 17:46 left to play, and it never dipped below double digits as the Lady Vols scored inside and out.

The lead reached 21 points, 62-41, when Simmons hit two free throws - she was fouled in the open floor and wanted to get the ball ahead to Johnson - and went to 23 points, 66-43, when Johnson got a stick-back with 5:20 left.

With just less than five minutes to play, Tennessee had parked all its starters on the bench.

The Lady Vols' final points came from Simmons, a three-pointer from the wing and after a Taber Spani offensive rebound on a missed Skyhawk three, Spani passed to Ariel Massengale, who dribbled out the final 24 seconds for the 72-49 win.

Tennessee-Martin was led by Butler with 14 points. Haislip tallied 12 points, and Newsome added 10.

The Skyhawks shot 28.8 percent overall (19-66), 20.0 percent (4-20) from long range and 87.5 percent (7-8) from the line.

"They did a very good job of keeping their defense out and staying on me and Taylor so we couldn't shoot, and at the same time staying on Butler and Jas because they are so long," Haislip said.

"I think the few times in the first half when I was getting points was slipping a screen and catching them off guard."

UTM had 12 assists, eight turnovers, four blocks and three steals.

Tennessee was led by Simmons with 20 points and Johnson with 14. Massengale, who connected on two treys, tallied eight points, while Stricklen added seven.

Both Massengale and Stricklen had four assists each. Stricklen had Williams grabbed six boards each. Baugh and Alicia Manning both posted a pair of fives in points and rebounds. Baugh and Williams each had three assists.

The Lady Vols shot 40.0 percent (28-70) overall, 37.0 percent (10-27) from long range and 60.0 percent (6-10) from the line.

Tennessee had 15 assists, eight turnovers, 10 blocks and eight steals. The Lady Vols won the boards, 52-39, and nipped UTM in the paint, 28-24. The Lady Vols bench outscored its counterpart, 38-9.

"I think we have to just take this game and get ready for the next game," Summitt said. "I think this team has had a little bit different focus now that we're here and it's for real.

"Let's just hope that we can keep moving forward."

INSIDE TENNESSEE'S TAKE

The smaller team did what it had to do - sagged into the paint and left jump shooters open on the perimeter.

Tennessee showed patience at first - after at least six passes, Alicia Manning connected on a trey ball and a 3-0 start for the Lady Vols.

But then the Lady Vols were tempted by how open they were, and shots were lofted from all over the court by every player on the floor.

Had the shots fallen, the game would have been over in the first 10 minutes, but the Lady Vols weren't connecting. An assortment of players checked in and they all found the openness appealing. And nearly all of them misfired.

Pat Summitt had seen enough late in the first half and called timeout. But she didn't unload on the players. Instead, they were told to be patient and get better shots.

"Pat Summitt has not quit coaching, and so she is just more focused on one-on-one, individual help, so I am sure she was trying to get a couple kids' attention," Holly Warlick said.

"So you don't have to worry about Pat not coaching and getting the point across, whether it is praise or giving them a swift kick in the butt."

Simmons connected on a three ball three seconds before halftime - the Lady Vols took a 35-26 lead to the locker room - and the advice was reinforced.

The players expected the coaches to be peeved, but they instead heard to talk more on defense and take better shots. The Lady Vols did just that in the second half and shot 54.5 percent from long range to secure the first round win.

Vicki Baugh and Glory Johnson had to overcome frustration - they were getting held and hacked inside without whistles - and both adjusted in the second half.

Baugh opened the second half by faking a shot from inside the key and driving to the rim and then used her size to set screens for teammates to get open perimeter looks.

Johnson went to work on both ends and finished with the double-double.

UTM's intent was to foul inside and send the Lady Vols to the line, but the calls weren't made.

"They funny thing is that one of our strategies was that we were going to foul their players in the paint," UTM Coach Kevin McMillan said. "We only committed 12. And we were trying to foul."

It wasn't for lack of effort.

"I would hate to see what would've happened if we were really trying to foul," he said.

McMillan wanted to send Tennessee to the line as opposed to a track meet where the Lady Vols would use their speed in the open floor and their size to get to the rim.

But the whistles rarely blew on either end and once Tennessee settled down, they built a comfortable lead, took the win and got to the locker room.

The Lady Vols used all 11 players in both halves and didn't have a starter in for the final five minutes. For the first 35 minutes, Tennessee used its depth to keep fresh legs on the floor. The result was the second half separation.

"We were constantly running people in and out," Alicia Manning. "I think that helped, as well as us playing better defense and getting on the boards. Just playing Tennessee basketball."

Every player logged double-digit minutes for Tennessee, and nobody except Stricklen exceeded 30 with the senior checking in at 31 minutes.

"Our strength was obviously the bench play," Warlick said. "I think when you get 38 bench points, that's a positive for us, and we preach our depth, and we needed our depth so I am proud of everyone who contributed today and I am proud to get the win."

The Lady Vols were happy in the locker room with the postseason win, but they also were volunteering their criticism of what needed to improve for Monday's game - more patience on offense, knocking down open shots and stiffer defense overall.

"They played that sag, and we finally started making some in the second half," Taber Spani said. "We were really frustrated with ourselves in the first half just because we know we can make those shots."

The message delivered at halftime was "discipline and finishing plays," Spani said. "Just be patient and get the shots that we want."

Tennessee did that in the second half with the same players who were shooting too quickly in the first half - which basically was team-wide - making better decisions in the second.

The Lady Vols next play DePaul and while it is not the Blue Demons' home floor, it is their hometown, and their fans were loud and enthusiastic during the team's 59-55 win over BYU.

A poor start in round one is recoverable. A bad start in round two would be a lot trickier.

"We came out with a win," Kamiko Williams said. "It wasn't that pretty, but we got it. Hopefully, we can play a little bit better defense."

Take the win, move on, get ready

"Clearly," Shekinna Stricklen said. "A win is a win now."

UNWANTED WHISTLE: Very few fouls were called Saturday. The Lady Vols tallied just nine infractions, while UTM was whistled 12 times.

Meighan Simmons wished that number was 11. She had just corralled a ball in the open floor and was about to fire ahead to Glory Johnson, who was all alone near the basket.

"I was, I was," Simmons said. "I saw Glory take off before I even got the ball so I going to get the ball and try to throw it to her."

But the whistle blew and Simmons had to head to the line for a one-and-one.

"When they called the foul, I was like, ‘Gotta get up there and make the free throws,' " Simmons said.

She hit them both.

BREE FOR THREE: Briana Bass misfired on a long ball a few minutes into the second half, but Alicia Manning got the rebound and got the ball to Vicki Baugh, who fired it right back to Bass with orders to shoot.

Bass swished that one to give the Lady Vols a 43-29 lead at the 15:49 mark.

"My teammates mean so much to me," Bass said. "They were like, ‘Shoot the ball! We know you can shoot it!' They have confidence in me. I've just got to shoot the ball with confidence."

Bass can hit those threes, but she hesitated at tad Saturday - as did her teammates; perhaps a shooter can be too open at times.

"It really is," Manning said. "Sometimes you think about it a little too much before you let it go. We have a day off (between games) so we can get a bunch of shots up."

Bass gets up a lot of jumpers, and she will do so Sunday in practice.

"Strick told me she was going to beat me up if I kept hesitating, so I've got to do something, " Bass said.

"I really was," Shekinna Stricklen said. "Teams are going to leave her open until she can prove that she can score. She is one of the best shooters, and she's got to have the confidence to just let it go."

Tennessee, as a team, attempted 27 threes and connected on 10 of them.

"They dared us to shoot threes, and we knew we could knock them down and it was just a matter of time before we did that," Taber Spani said.

"We came out letting it go," Stricklen said. "They were leaving us open. We just had to knock them down. My shot was off but other things are defense and rebounding."

Stricklen was effective on defense - she switched out and helped trapped UTM's three-point shooters - and also had six boards, four assists and two blocks.

POST POUNDING: Glory Johnson's nickname could be Christmas Tree because the forward spends most of the game trying to score with players, ornaments as it were, hanging on her.

Johnson and Vicki Baugh, who gets uptight when smaller players hover around her surgically repaired knee, were visibly frustrated.

"You could tell they were getting frustrated, but I think in the second half they really put that past them and said, ‘We are going to go through two or three people, and it's not going to be a big deal,' " Taber Spani said.

Kamiko Williams helped Johnson by delivering a pep talk.

"I tell her, ‘You've got it. You're the best post, I think personally, in the nation. So, just go out there and do you thing. Can't nobody stop you,' " Williams said. "I am constantly reminding her of that."

Williams played with Johnson in AAU basketball when both were in high school, and she is impressed with how Johnson holds her cool on the court despite all the body blows she absorbs.

"She has gotten a whole lot better," Williams said. "I remember in AAU she used to just blow up. Now, she just walks out of there.

"I tell her, ‘It's OK, Glo, because we need you.' She knows we need her, so she keeps her composure."

Freshman post Isabelle Harrison had some solid minutes in both halves. She tallied three points, four boards, one block and a steal.

"We got really comfortable with everybody out there," Harrison said. "We put an emphasis on our defense and said we needed to talk more on defense.

"We're on the bench observing, and when we go in there we need to make changes."

MIKO TO THE PAINT: Kamiko Williams was deployed for defense in the last game of the SEC tourney. She was inserted for offense in the first game of the NCAA tourney.

With UTM packing the paint, the Lady Vols needed a guard who could disrupt that setup inside, and Williams delivered with three assists in 12 minutes of play in the first half.

"Holly was like, ‘Miko, penetrate, get to the paint,' " Williams said. "I was like, ‘OK, Coach, I got you.' That is my game, so when they put me in there, I know that is what they are looking for."

Williams was effective shooting, dishing and getting on the offensive glass.

UTM backed off and gave Tennessee outside shots to start the game.

"We couldn't hit them, so we had to get to the basket," Williams said. "They were doubling down on Vicki and Glory."

THE FUTURE: The seniors have seized control of the team in their quest for the Final Four, but the play of the youngsters indicates the future is also bright.

Freshman Ariel Massengale and sophomore Meighan Simmons worked well together in the second half - Massengale was limited in the first with foul trouble - and combined to shoot 6-11 from long range. They appeared comfortable on the court together.

"We are," Massengale said. "Being a point guard you always love having a shooter on your team. Meighan was hitting so I kept feeding it to her. She's hot; you've got to give it to her."

Massengale said the two have gotten used to playing with each other as the season progressed, and both recognize how vital they will be next season.

"We have to be leaders and an example to the ones coming behind us," Massengale said.

BURDICK BOX SCORE: Cierra Burdick didn't need to be told she was 0-3 for the game. The freshman had already memorized the box score stat, and she sounded as if she would like to get in a gym right then, but DePaul and BYU were about to take the court.

"I couldn't buy a basket," Burdick said. "It was rough, but move on, next play. That is what Taber keeps telling me."

Taber Spani started the game 0-2 but drained a three in the second half. Spani also had four boards. Burdick grabbed two and had a block.

"We were a little out of sync, but our defense we were able to fall back on that," Burdick said. "That is what kept us in the game and that is why we were able to win."

PRESS TRANSCRIPTS: The quotes from coaches and players at Saturday's press conferences are made available online by the NCAA for each school.

Click on the matchups below to read the transcript.

Tennessee-Tennessee-Martin

DePaul-BYU

VIDEO COVERAGE

Holly Warlick

Ariel Massengale

Taber Spani

Meighan Simmons

Vicki Baugh

Glory Johnson


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